Titles can make your video look like a professional production, or like a ransom note. Here’s how to use them correctly.
Keeping pace with computer technology is a major challenge. It seems that products get bumped into
obsolescence every six months by the next big computer or multimedia “thing.” Specs improve, clocks
quicken and memory expands as the relentless pursuit of the fastest, most-powerful computer races on.
Video technology improves, too, but not quite as quickly. As the line that separates video and
computer equipment continues to blur, however, you can count on desktop video improvements
approaching the same pace.
One caveat in this race: it’s not long before the price of new technology falls to where nearly
everyone can afford to own it.
It happened back in the 1980s with S-VHS and Hi8 VCRs, which both grew out of advances that
once cost a pretty penny in the pro video world. Now it seems to be happening with titlers, the devices that
let you put text on your videos when you edit them.
For years, only the pros could add high-quality text to programs on videotape. Videomakers like
us were stuck with clunky, ugly titlers that left too much to the viewers’ imagination to be useful or
Thankfully, those days are gone. Many titlers available today let videomakers on even the tightest
budgets add great-looking text to their projects. Some titlers are stand-alone boxes that connect to your
VCRs. Others are special hardware cards that plug into personal computers and turn them into part-time or
Whatever version you choose, today’s titlers are a great way to make your videos look better.
If you’ve got a titler in your editing system, we have some tips to make your titles look their best,
and add that pro look to your videos.
More Professional-Looking Videos
Titlers are one of the simplest and cheapest ways to add a truly professional touch to your videos. On-
screen text communicates a subtle sense of credibility and professionalism to your audience. It says that
you’re much more than a novice with a camcorder trying to make good videos.
With a titler, you’re able to help the audience understand more of what you’re trying to say by
carefully using on-screen text to supplement the story.
If your project is an educational video that teaches people how to perform basic maintenance on a
car engine, you can use text to reinforce key parts of the process. Doing so helps the audience remember
those important steps when they’re under the hood with tools in hand.
Perhaps your video is a documentary that takes the audience on a tour of different cities and
countries. You can use titles to guide the audience from place to place and landmark to landmark. That will
help them remember exactly where you went and what it looked like.
Computer-based titler systems may even let you digitize a map of the world and use it as a
background for the text. Place the name of each city you visited on the map to make the trip even clearer to
Maybe you’re taking a stand on a community issue, producing a short video with interviews to run
on a local cable station. A titler can strengthen the impact of your show.
You can use text to identify each person you interview, and include a short description of what
they do in the community. Text can help reinforce your concerns or visions about the issue for the viewers.
They can also help acknowledge the people who contributed time or money to help produce the
While you can use titles to help an audience understand and enjoy your video, it’s important to
avoid overusing them.
The proper use of titles will make you look like a video pro. Audiences will come away from your
shows remembering and respecting what you had to say.
However, if you overuse titles, they may not give you the same consideration. Putting too many
titles in a show, or using too many special titling effects will make you look like the novice who just got a
new titler and wants to use it as often as possible in every project.
Remember that the images and sounds are the most important part of the video. Be careful not to
use too many titles, and don’t let the ones you use overpower the video. Doing so takes away the impact of
the pictures and makes your video too dependent on titles to tell the story. Let the pictures and sound tell
most of the story, and use titles only when it’s necessary to convey some important details.
Clearer, More Legible Titles
Titles communicate much more to a viewer than just the meaning of the words they spell. The shape,
color and position of on-screen text can often telegraph a vivid message about your skills as a videomaker.
It’s important to know these titling “rules” so you can use them to help and not hinder your videos.
Pick the fonts that match your video’s message. Fonts are the various letter or character styles
stored in your titler’s memory. Most models come with a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s important to
choose fonts that support your video’s message, and not ones that contradict it.
Some fonts look traditional and perhaps even conservative. While they may seem boring at first,
they actually work best in most titling situations. For videos where you don’t want the titles to draw
unnecessary attention, use a traditional font. But if you’re working on a fun project, like a family vacation
or birthday video, choose fonts with a little more personality. They can add an extra sense of fun to the
For most projects, use only one or two different fonts in a video. Resist the temptation to use
every font in your titler in a project. Artistic restraint will do more to please the audience than technical
bells and whistles. Text that looks the same throughout a video sends a subtle message of reliability and
consistency to your audience. It says they can trust what you’re telling them. Choosing one font to use for
all of the titles will work in almost every situation.
There are times, however, when two or more fonts may be a better choice than just one. If you’re
splitting your video into segments and plan to give each segment a title screen, choose a different font for
each of those screens. Then choose a second complementary font for all the titles within the segments. This
technique clearly communicates the segment change, and also keeps the titling within segments consistent
and professional. Always remember that it’s wiser to err on the side of too few fonts than too many.
Let the size of the text help convey your message. Large, bold-style letters work perfectly for
creating main title screens. If you need to put a title at the beginning of a video, or between segments, use a
large font. Use smaller, thin letters for titles in the body of the video, like the names of people you
As with the number of fonts, try to keep title size consistent in your videos. If you use titles
throughout a video, make sure they’re the same size on every screen. Randomly sized text won’t
communicate the stability you want the audience to feel as they watch your video.
Choose fonts with basic shapes and bold features for the best readability. Some titlers
include fonts with serifs, the small curls and lines that add extra flair to letters. Avoid using such fonts
unless you want to strain the viewers’ eyes. Script-style fonts also have poor legibility. If you want the
people in the back of the room to see the titles as clearly as those in the front, choose a sans-serif or basic-
style font for the titles. Anything else might leave viewers squinting.
Supreme Color Schemes
Another part of making great titles is choosing the colors that make titles stand out against your
images and support what you’re saying.
As with fonts, consistency is key in looking professional. Choose a color scheme that you’ll use
throughout the video and stick to it as you’re editing. If you don’t, you’ll likely wind up choosing colors at
random while you edit, which will leave a rainbow of colored titles throughout the video.
The best colors for readability are white and yellow. While perhaps not the most exciting of
colors, they stand out against virtually any video background and have a pleasant appearance to the eye. If
you want to guarantee readability, choose white or yellow.
Red is often the worst color to choose for titles. This is because of an unwanted video effect called
“bleeding.” Bleeding is what happens when the color from one object on the screen spills or “bleeds” onto
the color of another object. The result is a very fuzzy image where the two objects intersect.
In most videos, red is the color most likely to bleed into everything around it. You can get around
the problem by choosing any other color. White and yellow bleed the least, blues and greens also work
If red is the only color you think will work in your particular video, you have some options.
Certain titlers let you adjust the degree or intensity of the color of the text. If yours does, try using a less-
intense red. You can also try putting the red text over a pale background to reduce bleeding.
It’s great to get creative with color. If you want to add some spice to a project, don’t limit your
videos to the standard white or yellow titles. Experiment with different color schemes to make the project
more visually interesting.
Start by trying to use colors that already appear in the video. If you’re doing a video for a
company or business, why not use their logo colors as title colors in the video? In a travel video, you can
use colors of that country’s flag, or of the landmarks you shoot.
Many titlers today also let you generate text with gradated colors–colors that smoothly change
from one to another within the letters themselves.
As with most titling rules, consistency and restraint will go a long way toward making gradated
titles look appealing to an audience. Pick a color scheme that suits the whole video, and use it on every
Special Effects to the Max
Many of today’s titlers include special text effects that rival or even exceed what professional models
could do only a few years ago. Things like animated transitions, transparent text and backgrounds, and
smooth rolls and crawls are standard fare on most computer models–and on some of the stand-alone titlers,
Most also have effects like drop shadow and outline to help make on-screen text appear more
legible and three-dimensional.
Because these effects have a dramatic appearance on screen, it’s very important to use them only
when needed. Overusing them takes away their impact and uniqueness, and ultimately bores your
Animated transitions are a great way to add emphasis to an important message or point in a video.
If your audience needs to remember a handful of ideas or terms from your video, an animated transition
can help ensure that they do.
Transitions range from text that slides on screen from any direction, to a “pixelate” effect in which
the titles emerge amid a flurry of small squares.
Shadows help create the illusion of three-dimensional text by simulating an off-screen light source
shining on the letters. One rule for using shadows: make sure the shadows falls in the same direction on all
titles in a video. If they don’t, the simulated light source will appear to move from place to place and
distract your viewers.
If text blends too much with the video behind it, use a thin gray or black outline to help the text
“pop out” a little more. You can also try making the letters themselves a darker color, and using a white or
yellow outline. This technique draws even more attention to the title, and it may not aesthetically match
what’s happening in your video–but it’s worth a try.
Roll Credits, Please
Don’t think that these titling rules can’t be broken. They’re simply guidelines to give you a
foundation upon which to build your titling skills. Feel free to experiment with new titling tricks wherever
and whenever you think they’ll work.
If you don’t already have a titler, start shopping to find one that might fit your budget and your
videomaking style. If you’ve got one, start using it to make your videos look one notch closer to